Investigating Alternative Summer Crops to maximise return from irrigation

This project has been developed to ensure farmers are gaining the best possible return on investment in relation to water use – both economically and environmentally.

Being a non-renewable resource it is extremely important that we are using water in such a way that the best possible outcomes can be achieved to ensure that the resource is available for future generations. We need to try and do this while protecting the farming operations that exist assisting them to explore new opportunities and develop new practices and technologies to meet the continually increasing needs of human consumption. This project will provide farmers with valuable information allowing them to make better decisions with regards to sustainable water use.

The project aims to investigate alternative summer crops to determine their suitability to be grown under irrigation in the South-East region. The project also aims to assess and measure both Crop Water Use Indices and Irrigation Water Use Indices for a range of alternative crops.

The irrigation areas around Frances have traditionally been used for white clover and specialty small seed production. In recent years, the market and demand for these specialty crops has declined and the returns (Gross Margin/ML water) from irrigated small seeds crops have declined.

The project aims to measure if alternative summer crops will result in an increase in Water Use Efficiency. There will be a particular focus on crops that are suitable for human consumption (Summer Pulse Crops) to improve long-term sustainability of the local irrigation industry.

The assessment of alternative crops will occur by sowing replicated trial plots under an operating centre pivot. The trial plots will be surrounded with a “standard” crop for the area (eg.white clover) and WUE results will be compared with the “standard” crop. Various measurements and assessments will be made throughout the growing season, including plant growth, soil moisture and water applied. At the end of the season the plots will be harvested and the produce assessed for yield and quality.

At the end of the project, the aim is to establish various Water Use Efficiency Indicators (both Crop Water Use and Irrigation Water Use Indices) relative to each of the crops grown to allow farmers to make decisions on the benefits and disadvantages of various crops with regards to potential economic outcomes and best use of volume of water applied.

Farmers will be updated throughout the project. They will be initially advised about the project and its aims via newsletters, electronic media and publications. During the growing season there will be an “in-crop” field walk. Post-harvest results will be collected and a “Fact Sheet” summarising results sent to all members and associates. Information will also be available on the MFMG website.

Read the Summary here

Funding for this project has been awarded from Landcare Australia and Woolworths